Don't be in such a hurry to buy the dream

It is all to easy be seduced by the hype surrounding new solutions - look before you leap.

It is all to easy be seduced by the hype surrounding new solutions - look before you leap.

What will the next big thing be? The truth is it does not really matter. Unless the industry changes its attitude towards implementing technology - whatever the next must-have technology or must-do thing is (let us call it X), you can bet your last dollar that a few months down the line articles will start to appear stating that X has not delivered the benefits expected.

Or they will say that X has been more costly to implement than envisaged and that the whole concept needs to be carefully thought through to ensure that it fits in with the existing organisation before embarking on it.

There have been many bandwagons to jump onto over the past few years: business process re-engineering; workflow; customer relationship management; e-commerce; e-everything; B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to customer); wireless application protocol; m-commerce, and so on.

The introduction of new technologies is inevitable and generally a good thing. It potentially allows businesses to become more efficient and hence profitable. However, with all the new fads and hype that surrounds each new technology it seems all to easy to lose sight of why a company should invest in X.

The not-so-good reasons unfortunately feature much too high on the reasons-we-did-this list. Just because other companies are having X is no reason for implementing it in your organisation. Similarly, just because X is the hottest thing in IT, if it affects the business (and it probably will) it should not be an IT-led project if there is no business benefit.

Regardless of what X is, the impact on the bottom line has to be one of the primary aspects to take into account. Indeed, the reasons for doing anything should be sacrosanct:
  • The total cost of having X should not exceed the total expected benefits

  • The organisation would clearly suffer without it.

That's it. Simple, isn't it? Well, no. A sound business case is the only way to start although, despite volumes of case studies, it is incredible how many multi-million pound projects start without one.

As far as any implementation goes there are two elements to a project - technical and business. Technical implementation, unfortunately, is the element that in most cases gets the primary focus. The assumption, presumably, is that if the implementation is successful it will work.

What rubbish. Just because a system works does not mean that it will be used in the way intended. The business project is the key part of any project as this is the element that will determine its ultimate "userability".

The new system or working practices will be used by the business and it is there that its eventual success will be determined. Users will either work with it, or around it.

The key to any successful project is to address (and sort out) the old chestnuts. So, regardless of what X is, it is the change that users will experience that needs to be managed. People are generally change-averse and just dumping a new system or way of working on them, as is all too common, will not produce the benefits or the return on investment expected.

Things to do before jumping on the next bandwagon
So what are the key points to maximising project success? They are:
  • Educate the user community to the appropriate level so that they can meaningfully participate in discussions
  • Actively and genuinely involve the end-users in a structured manner from the outset (lip-service involvement does more harm than good)
  • Be open about the extent of change that the business will undergo and welcome feedback
  • Provide mechanisms for feedback from the business for ideas, comments and, importantly, to address any fears and concerns
  • Be as open as possible when disseminating project information and timescales
  • Ensure that the project objectives are known and that key project personnel are known to the business.

Gary Burke is director of Metamorphosis Consulting

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